A week ago I was watching a talk from journalist John Ibbitson on how the old political guard in my country is giving way to a new order of things. He used this line to describe Canada:
The World’s First Post-National State
Canada’s story is typically written with a theme something like, “how will the English and French get along?” Ibbitson uses the phrase the “Laurentian Consensus” to describe the old political guard – the strong line of old families and waterways along the St. Lawrence Seaway from Montreal to Ottawa to Toronto. Canada’s political system is a little strange in that it is a representative regional democracy. Instead of clearcut checks and balances for power, there is a lot of trust involved that the population will vote strategically. Throughout our history, the one overwhelming assumption seems to have held strong- regardless of who got in power, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto dictated the thoughtful and correct issues to talk about.
For the most part, it worked, although some of our history is a comedy of sloppiness. It’s actually fortunate that we’ve never had the population to throw any real power around or we could have gotten into real trouble. We tend to be thought of as “nice” in part because we’ve never really had the power to be anything else.
Our last election was quite a blow against that old guard. That assumption of power and correctness is now being publicly questioned and successfully challenged. A much more intriguing and accurate theme is showing up in the story of Canada – immigration and movement. And Ibbitson’s conclusions seem to follow a greater pattern – power moves, and it usually moves west with population.
This is a religious blog, mostly, and so I look for parallels in the religious world. The move away from national states into post-national states is a pattern that I think is not going to fade away. Borders, being made-up authoritative lines and not exactly “real”, sure ain’t what they used to be. The same goes for religious borders. Last year I was reading some articles on Samir Selmanovic, a self-proclaimed Muslim Atheist Christian Jew. His father was Muslim and his mother Christian. They brought him up as an atheist, and now he’s a minister that works on interfaith dialogue. He refers to religions as “God-management systems,” which has to be one of the funniest, most honest and most accurate descriptions I’ve ever heard.
The assumption in Canada was that the old guard should set the agenda, whether we like it or not. The assumption when people bring up religion is that the discussion is going to be about magic, whether the religious want it to be or not.
In playing with Ibbitson’s description, I came up with this question:
Are we on the verge of defining the world’s first post-magic religion?
I suppose it’s already here. People within certain religious groups have certainly tried to shrug off the superstition label. However, self-definition doesn’t satisfy the critics outside the religion. Is it possible to come up with a post-magic religion, or at least one that can be defined as such by both those inside and outside of it?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has a book entitled, “Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World.” He has been making efforts to peel the layers of magic from his own tradition. Some Christians have been wrestling with this dilemma quite a lot too. What’s interesting is that when they do try to remove the magic, they get slack from both the hardline Christians and the secular critics. Change, like power, takes movement. Some people only want to see dramatic movement while others are afraid to move at all.
According to this site, maybe as many as 70% of the world’s Jewish population would call themselves ‘secular Jews‘ and even heading towards atheism.
That’s a lot of people no longer accepting the old assumptions. The very culture that inspired what the world thinks of as monotheism today continues to change and alter its assumptions.
What do you think?
Can there be such a thing as a post-national state? And is Canada a good example?
Can there be such a thing as religion without magic? And what would it look like?